California Chrome and his connections already have beaten incredible odds.
“Some people go all their lives trying to find a horse that can just make it to the Kentucky Derby, and we did it with our first horse,” co-owner Steve Coburn said of California Chrome’s Triple Crown run. “Living in Nevada, an odds-making state, I don’t know what the odds are of that happening – maybe one in a trillion?"
The odds against California Chrome winning the Triple Crown are pretty staggering, too.
Although his wagering odds will be about 3-to-5 in next Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the California colt really is closer to a million-to-1 longshot to succeed in racing’s Test of the Champion – if you put racing history in perspective.
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But on the other end of the spectrum, he’s the only horse that has a shot this year at racing’s greatest prize. And many experts rate his chances at ending the Triple Crown’s 36-year drought the best in a generation.
Winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, California Chrome gets his final tuneup today for the 146th Belmont Stakes. Shortly after dawn, he’s scheduled to work a half-mile at Belmont Park on New York’s Long Island. Regular jockey Victor Espinoza flew from Los Angeles to New York to guide the colt in his only workout before the Belmont.
“We don’t need a whole lot,” trainer Art Sherman said. “All I’d do is open up his lungs and get him the feeling of the racetrack.”
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Sherman doesn’t want California Chrome to go too fast today; he’s got to save something for next week.
“I want to keep it all in him,” Sherman said. “He’ll put it out when you run him in the afternoon (in the Belmont Stakes) and that’s where it counts.”
California Chrome got a new set of shoes Friday – his first change since before Christmas. Judd Fisher, the colt’s usual farrier, flew in from California for this special fitting. It’s royal treatment for the latest Triple Crown hopeful.
Only 11 horses have swept the Triple Crown; the first was in 1919, but none have done it since 1978. Only three horses have succeeded since 1948 and never one born in California.
California-bred Belmont winners are extremely rare; it’s only happened twice – Comanche in 1893 and Africander in 1903.
Like California Chrome more than a century later, Africander had Sacramento ties. Owned and bred by James Ben Ali Haggin, Africander was born in Sacramento at Haggin’s Rancho del Paso.
After his impressive victories in the Derby and Preakness, California Chrome is expected to be a heavy favorite. The last favorite with odds under even money to win the Belmont was Affirmed in 1978; he also was the last Triple Crown winner.
Among the odds-on favorites who flopped in the interim: Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Real Quiet, Smarty Jones and Big Brown. All seven also are on the list of 12 horses who won the Derby and Preakness since 1978 but could not complete the sweep.
Not surprisingly, New York-based horses have a distinct advantage in recent Belmonts. Of the last 25 runnings, 15 were won by horses that also raced at Belmont Park at age 2. California Chrome never set foot outside his home state until this month’s Kentucky Derby.
California Chrome has benefited from fewer horses born in the same year he was foaled. According to The Jockey Club, 23,150 thoroughbred foals were registered for 2011 – down 43 percent from 1990. Of those, 1,834 were born in California, representing about 8 percent of the American crop.
In theory, that gave California Chrome a 1-in-23,150 chance of becoming a Derby winner. But rarer is the ability to string together victories in major races at longer distances.
Fewer than 1 percent of all horses who have raced in North America since 1973 – the year Secretariat swept the Triple Crown – won three or more stakes in their entire careers, according to research by Bloodhorse.com. Only 210 horses of more than 1 million that have raced in the past 41 years won at least three Grade I stakes during their careers.
But since 1973, only six horses strung together three consecutive Grade I victories at classic distances (over 11/8 miles) on dirt: Triple Crown winners Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed plus Alysheba, Easy Goer and Gentlemen. That’s what California Chrome is attempting to do.
As far as Sherman is concerned, this horse already has proven he’s one in a trillion.
“I really think he’s the real McCoy, and I think you’re going to see a champion,” Sherman said. “I’m hoping it’s the Triple Crown.”